The recipe for peace in Syria: humanitarian persistence and a quiet diplomacy, unthreatened by absolutist demands or statements. By Martin Griffiths
Good news for Syria - at last. There is something uplifting about the persistence of hope over experience which has brought Syrian families a chance of a few days, perhaps longer, of a respite from the hell of war.
But this marvel should not stop us being clear-eyed about the future. President Assad and his allies have done well recently. This means that they will have no patience with any consideration of the Geneva Communique. This Communique was agreed by the UN Security Council in 2012 and it's central provision is the departure of Assad from Syria's politics. Some western commentators, acknowledging this new reality, have urged Syrians to dial down on their aspirations and accept a 'transition' with an ever-present Assad. Secretary Kerry has even been quoted as saying that a divided Syria may be the country's future.
This facile shift in diplomatic views has one big problem. Syrians, or at least a very large percentage of them, do not think that way. They know - better than we do - the grim reality of Assad's recent successes, measured in the uptick in Russian sorties now briefly suspended. Syrians know the misery of war which has deprived a generation of children of education, and something under half a million of them of their lives. They know all this. But guess what: their anger at Assad and his murderous allies, has only increased. Syrians are nowhere nearer a consensus on peace; in fact they may be further away. And we should not allow our own rather distant assessments blind us from this basic truth. This is also relevant for the upcoming peace talks, scheduled to begin within a week: The talks unfortunately do not have any greater chance of success than the talks that we have seen before. As long as Syrians do not agree on their future we will see an increase in hatred as the fighting continues.
Another failure in Geneva is not something our consciences should accept. All acts have consequences. A failure in Geneva is not a neutral act. It will take us backward, a journey marked by the disillusion of Syrians in diplomacy.
Is there another way?
I believe there must be.
First of all it must include a managed moderation of the conflict. We have seen these past few days that diplomacy can perform some miracles. A steady hand on the war needs to be sustained beyond the two weeks sometimes cited for this cessation of hostilities.
Secondly, we must give indirect diplomacy a chance to identify compromises and possibilities. A resumption of the theatre of Geneva gives no chance to the discreet and always valuable talks in the shadows which find a way through impossible differences. Peace is always made this way: through quiet conversations as well as public consensus.
Thirdly, we must not give in to easy compromises. Talk of a divided Syria does nobody a service; any such eventuality would be bound to serve the interests of the nihilists in ISIS, but not the desire of Syrians eventually to live again together as they have done these countless centuries.
The time calls out for a humanitarian persistence, and a quiet diplomacy, unthreatened by absolutist demands or statements.